Friday, February 16, 2007

The 10 Biggest Questions entering Spring Training:

1. How surprised will the Cubs act when Mark Prior gets injured?

In past years, the Cubs franchise has gone into spring training giddy at the prospects of having a healthy Mark Prior anchoring their unstable rotation, and each year, Prior's inevitable injuries have deflated the Cubs' preseason enthusiasm. This year, the Cubs brought in Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, and Wade Miller so that when Prior gets hurt, they can act like they don't give a shit instead of crying over his infinitely receding return dates.

2. Can Jim Leyland string together enough soft-spoken mumbles to re-motivate the Tigers?

Leyland, the best motivator in the game, managed to muster enough barely audible, vaguely displeased sounding quips to fire up the young Tigers all the way into the World Series last year. Does he have any sentences with a random bleep in the middle where a swear word could not have possibly belonged left in him?

3. What will J.D. Drew do to merit having a battery whipped at him?

Drew's arrival in Boston should take some press heat off Manny Ramirez, but it is yet to be seen what specifically Drew will do to get deservedly bashed by Red Sox fans. The Boston Herald has begun compiling a list of potential pun headlines involving "Drew," "battery," and an assortment of offenses ranging from calling out his teammates to first degree manslaughter, but which headline they end up needing will be one of the hottest storylines of the spring.

4. Can the Mets successfully implement a "pitcherless offense?"

The Mets' plan to start nine position players in a game may be a departure from conventional wisdom, but in the long term, phasing out the contracts of Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine will give the Mets the flexibility to add Manny Ramirez and/or Miguel Tejada to the lineup to play Rover. Keep an eye on the position battle to see which Met will get to set the ball on the tee for the opposing team; manager Willie Randolph calls it "a wide open field... but it'll probably be like Endy Chavez or something."

5. Will Gil Meche win 8 games or 9?

The Royals signed Meche to a monstrous five year, $55 million deal this offseason, and while it's a given that his ERA is going to end up somewhere in the 5.10 - 5.30 range once he moves out of Safeco, it is yet to be determined if the Royals can muster enough luck and happenstance to have Meche end up with eight wins, or if they can get on a roll and make it nine. The entire Games Behind column of the AL Central hangs in the balance.

6. Who will win the Giants' "death pool"?

The San Francisco players have a pool going to see which one of the greying fogies on the team will be the first to die this season between Bonds, Rich Aurilia, Omar Vizquel, Mark Sweeney, and Ray Durham. It'll be interesting to see not only who dies, but how much the resulting pool victory improves the morale of the winning player.

7. Who are the Seattle Mariners?

Seriously, they're still a team, right? What've they been up to?

8. Can the Yankees convince A-Rod to stop playing baseball?

Last year, the Yankees managed to survive the burden of Alex Rodriguez's .290/35/121 performance during the regular season, but it finally got to them in the playoffs. Can they mend broken fences this offseason and convince A-Rod to get traded or to quit baseball altogether?

9. Can these young Braves get back to choking like the old Braves?

A rash of injuries over the Braves last season prevented them from achieving their annual first round playoff choke; this year, with a revamped bullpen and maturing talents all over the diamond, the Braves are poised to make a leap forward, but can these young players produce the mundane regular season consistency giving way to abrupt playoff exits like the Braves teams of old?

10. Can anyone beat the Cardinals?

Nope. They're pretty much invincible.

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